If you're not sure how to get started with podcasts, here's a quick guide.

You see people wearing headphones at the gym, in the mall, on the train, on the plane, and just about everywhere else. Not all of them are listening to their favorite music, though. Now more than ever before, many are listening to podcasts. Since they first premiered in 2003, podcasts have morphed into a cultural phenomenon. It is estimated that over 124 million Americans listen to them on a regular basis.

Whether you have no idea what a podcast is or have at least heard the term but aren't quite sure on what a podcast is, we're here to help. For the uninitiated, podcasts are (mostly) free, digital audio shows. They are available online and can be downloaded onto a mobile device or a computer. They are usually produced in a series, which means that they are comprised of continuing episodes.

Think about the Golden Age of Radio, and you will get a better idea of why podcasts are so appealing. Before television was invented, vintage radio ruled the airwaves. Listeners would tune in to top broadcasts like the Eddie Cantor Show and Amos n’ Andy. While the most popular nationally syndicated radio shows, like  On Air with Ryan Seacrest and  The Howard Stern Show, are now streamed online, they're not quite the same.

Podcasts differ as they're generally shorter, can focus on just one topic, and are more story driven. Plus, there are over 500,000 of them out there, with topics ranging like finance, comedy, advice, and just about anything else you can imagine.

Getting Up and Running

With so many choices, getting started can seem overwhelming. Fear not, this is actually the easy part. The first step is to find and download a podcast app on your device.

Most modern phones and devices, like iPhones and iPads, are podcast-ready, and may already have the app on them. Although, IOS users can download other podcast apps if desired. Android users can simply go to the Google Play store and select then download the podcast app of your choice.

The most popular podcast apps include Stitcher Radio, TuneIn, RadioPublic. Spotify users should note that the app also allows you to listen to podcasts. For more in-depth info, check out Podcast Insights list of the best podcast apps for iOS and Android.

Once these apps are opened, they display various podcasts that you can check out. You can either do a general search by typing something in like “travel” or choosing from one of the categories. The app will bring up the most popular podcasts. From here, it is easy to subscribe to your favorites, and you can set up your device to download new shows and alert you as these episodes become available.

Smart Listening Tips

You can listen to podcasts on your phone while out shopping, or just while lounging in your home.

Podcasts are like television and radio shows because you might not like one after you first experience it. It makes sense to “try one on” first before subscribing. Keep in mind that if you listen to a podcast but your phone is not hooked up to Wi-Fi, you may be charged for data usage. Download the podcast on Wi-Fi first so you're not using up data when streaming on the go.

The apps have libraries in them to store your favorite episodes, but be aware that downloaded podcasts will take up storage space on your device. Be sure to scroll through your podcast library once in a while and do regular clean-ups.

Podcast Pro Tips

Once you become familiar with your podcast app, you can improve your listening experience further. Most of the apps allow you to control the volume, pause and replay episodes, and slow them down or speed them up. These are useful if you didn’t hear what they said the first time, or if you want to skip an ad in a podcast quickly. There are also options to delete shows right after you hear them, to increase the button sizes if you can’t see them well, and much more.

If you are listening while driving, it is essential to focus on the road, not on your device. Before you get behind the wheel, start playing the podcast. Then, if you need to make an adjustment, pull over. Fiddling with the device controls while driving can cause serious auto accidents, so this should be avoided.

Best Podcasts

Serial was one of the first podcasts to gain mainstream success. (Image via Casey Fiesler)

With so many podcasts out there, there is something for every lifestyle and interest. An active adult listener will probably not want to listen to the same podcasts as a teenager. Since setting up a podcast is relatively easy, practically anyone can do it. This can increase the quantity, but not necessarily the quality, of podcasts on any given day. Just like with any medium, asking around to see what your friends and family are listening to can be helpful. Websites like Time.com also rate the best shows and can provide excellent insight.

Time rated the Serial podcast as number one. Now in its third season, Serial became a cultural phenomon during its first season and won several awards, including a Peabody. Currently, it's exploring true crime cases and miscarriages of justice that take place at Cleveland’s Justice Center, told by host Sarah Koenig. Serial speaks for a larger trend in podcasting, which is true crime, the genre has certainly found a home

The Habitat also made the list. This podcast focuses on six individuals who were chosen to live as astronauts in a secluded region of Hawaii. The area was designed by NASA to resemble the planet Mars, and to help the scientists learn how life on this planet might work. The show is produced by Gimlet Media, which is home to several top podcasts.

Some podcasts are so well-liked that they get developed into television shows. Homecoming was an audio drama podcast first but has been adapted for the small screen. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime and stars Julia Roberts. 

History lovers will feel right at home while listening to Dan Carlin's Hardcore HistoryAnd, if you love public radio, all of your favorite NPR and local station shows can be found as podcasts.

Now that you’re up to speed on podcasts, there’s no time like the present to get in on the fun. It only takes around five minutes to get started. You never know, once you get going, you might even become a podcast addict yourself!